Tag Archives: wool

McEwens of Perth, Scotland Wools, 1961

Today I wore a skirt I made from Pendleton Black Watch plaid, and that reminded me that I had not talked about a group of brochures I have that advertise Scottish plaids and woolen knits.  McEwens was actually a department store which operated for nearly 150 years before closing in 2016. McEwens had a feature that people today would consider to be a real luxury, but which was fairly common in nicer departments stores in 1961. That feature was a department that made clothing to order.

My brochures are advertising skirts made from wool. There were sixteen skirt styles from which to choose, and sixteen different tartans. A buyer would fill out the order form which asked for the correct measurements. She would then order either a waistband or a petersham waist. She could order pockets for an additional charge. The item was truly made to order.

All the style names start with “glen”. The prices quoted beneath each style was just for the sewing charge. The fabric had to be bought for an additional charge.

If you wanted a truly coordinated ensemble, you could buy your sweater from McEwens using this handy chart that told which sweaters would match. I really love the Black Watch skirt above with that deep green twin set. You probably gathered that because I have it pictured three times.

The custom department at McEwens also made other garments, like these coats and jackets. Note how much more it cost to make a jacket than a skirt.

For home sewers, McEwens sold the fabric by the yard.

This catalog showed some of the made-to-order items along with what might be considered the types of items tourists visiting Scotland were looking to buy. Things like kilt pins, tartan neckties, and tartan scarves.

A shopper could not only choose the style of handbag, but also the tartan used and the color of leather trim. I can’t imagine what this would cost today, but the best that I can figure, these cost approximately $120 in current dollars.

I find so many vintage tartan scarves that I think every visitor to Scotland must buy at least one. It has to be a rule, right?

I think I need a pair of New Caledonian dancing sandals.



Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Proper Clothing

Project – Handwoven Belt

I hesitated before writing this post because I’m sure it’s going to give some of you the impression that I have too much time on my hands.  It is true that I no longer have to show up at a workplace at 7:55 every morning, but I find there are always interesting ways to spend one’s time.  And while a little weaving was fun, I don’t think I could take a steady diet of it.

I wisely chose to do a project that would be quick.  The actually weaving of the strip for the belt was accomplished over the course of an afternoon, interspersed with other tasks.  I just could not keep it up for longer than about five minutes or so.  Something has definitely been messing with my attention span.

I used a light blue cotton yarn for the warp and a darker blue wool yarn for the weft.  I haven’t quite gotten the knack of keeping each row of weft pressed down evenly, but I found that I could adjust the thin spots with my fingers after the weaving was finished.

I already had a nice leather and buckle piece that I’d saved from an old belt where the canvas was in poor shape.  I’m always picking up things like that when I run across them at the thrifts.  One never knows what will be useful!

My weaving would not be sturdy enough on its own, so I needed to interface and back it with another fabric.  I just happened to have a piece of Liberty Tana lawn that was the right size.  Another thing I always buy when I see them are Liberty neckties.  There is an amazing amount of fabric in a tie, well worth the fifty cents they usually cost in thrifts.

After cutting the interfacing to the right width (a couple of millimeters less than my woven piece) I wrapped the cotton fabric around it and pressed the cotton to fit.

I then stitched the backing to my woven piece.  I waxed the thread for a bit of body.

I trimmed the edges and secured the loose ends through all three layers.

There were already stitch holes in the leather where the original canvas was sewn on.  I used the very same holes for my stitches.  I used silk buttonhole twist, again waxed for strength and body.

When expert leather workers hand stitch, they use two needles and two strands of thread that go through the holes from opposite sides.  It makes for a strong stitch, but I did it the easy way, doing every other hole and them going back in the other direction.  Here I am half way and ready to reverse my path of stitches.

And here it is all finished.  It actually was a very quick project, with maybe two hours total in the making.

And here’s a photo showing how it looks when worn.

This may be my one and only weaving project, but I’m glad I did this one.  I like the belt, and I have a new appreciation for all the work that women used to have to put into the production of garments.




Filed under Sewing

What I Didn’t Buy – Wool Bonnie Cashin Coat

I lucked into a vintage pop-up shop on the streets of Asheville yesterday, and as I was hurriedly pawing through the racks this coat appeared.  I was pretty sure it was a Bonnie Cashin for Sills, and sure enough I found the label in the side of the coat.

I went for the price tag and was shocked to see it priced at $8, and then I noticed the words, “As is.”  Not a good sign.

It didn’t take long to find the reason for the cheap price.  At the hem of the coat the leather had pulled loose from the wool in several places.   In addition there were places where the wool was a bit worn looking, and the lining, which was jersey knit, was riddled with holes.

For a few minutes, my mind was working through the problems, and I had myself convinced that I could save this beautiful coat.    It would involve removing the leather binding at the hem, cutting off an inch or two, and reattaching the leather.  I actually did this with a Pendleton coat a while back, but the bulky textured wool of this coat would be trickier than the smooth Pendleton.  And then there were all those holes to mend, and some reweaving to boot.  Then it occurred to me that my entire wardrobe consists of cool colors with only a piece or so of pink and orange, and no yellow at all.  I decided to leave this coat for someone who would love it, mend it, and wear it.

The wool was really special.  It could possibly be one of the Bernat Klein tweeds that Cashin is known to have used.

The only closure was a leather tie slightly above the waist.

A real heart-breaker, this one.

But all was not lost.  At the same sale I found a really special piece, which I’ll be showing off next week.


Filed under Designers, I Didn't Buy...

Bernat Klein, 1922 – 2014

I’ve just today heard of the death of Bernat Klein, who in the 1960s and 1970s furnished the most wonderful woolen fabrics to designers from Chanel to Cashin.  I would imagine that most readers in the UK would recognize Klein’s name, but he never really gained name recognition here in the USA.  His death went unmentioned by the big fashion sites, such as Vogue.com and WWD.com, but it was news in Britain, and especially in Scotland where Klein lived and worked.

Several years ago I got an email from photographer Arthur Massey, who had worked with Klein in the 1960s and 1970s.  He sent along some fantastic photos, both of Klein at work, and of shots from some collections of Bernat Klein fabrics. To remember Bernat Klein, I’ve up-dated the post I wrote in 2009.

Klein studied art and textiles in Jerusalem and England, and in 1952 started his own textiles company, Colourcraft.  The company produced various woven fashion accessories such as ties and scarves,  but in the late fifties Klein began experimenting with producing tweeds.  These tweeds, based on years of color study and experimentation with dyes and weaving, were like nothing ever before seen.  They were so special that Chanel chose them for her spring 1962 couture collection.

That was only the beginning, as other couturiers – St. Laurnet, Cardin and Laroche – discovered the beautiful Bernat Klein textiles.   And thanks to the research by Jacqueline Field, it is now well documented that some of the fabulous mohair blend tweeds used by Bonnie Cashin were produced by Bernat Klein.  (See her article in Volume 33, 2006, Dress)

In the late 1960s Klein began working in polyester, developing ranges of color-coordinated separates in printed jersey knit, mohair tweed and wool twill.  Production continued throughout the 1970s, with the firm closing in 1981.  By that time, Klein had turned to painting, something he worked at until his death on April 17.

Please note that all photos are property and copyright of Arthur Massey, and may not be used without his permission.  That means don’t put them on Pinterest, please.

A mid 1960s fashion shot

Note Klein’s paintings being used as props in this shot.

Bernat Klein and his wife, Margaret

The remainder of the photos are from a 1970s fashion shoot showing the range of coordinating fabrics.


Filed under Designers

Vintage Sewing – McCall’s 8348, Givenchy

In 1966 McCall’s patterns released four patterns of designs by Givenchy that he made for Audrey Hepburn to wear in How to Steal a Million.  I’ve written about these patterns in the past, and if you want to see all four of the designs you can follow the link.

I’ve been needing a few basic skirts, so I went in search of fabric.  At The House of Fabrics in Asheville I found a beautiful Donna Karan wool doublecloth, navy on one side and grey on the reverse.  It was just the thing to made a reversible wrap skirt.

If you are not familiar with the term doublecloth, it is a type of fabric in which two different sides are woven with a few threads that hold the entire thing together.  In my photo above you can see how if you pull the two fabrics apart, they are held together with some threads that are woven through both sides.

I did not have a pattern, but after looking through my collection of vintage patterns I knew I could easily adapt the Givenchy skirt into a wrap style.  I merely cut an extra front piece and left the front open.

Constructing the skirt was the easy part; concealing the seams and edges not so much so.  Actually, it was more time-consuming than hard, as I elected to do it all by hand.  There is a technique of doing this on the machine.  Ralph Rucci uses it, and it was illustrated in an old issue of Threads magazine.  But I wanted more control, and I knew that perfecting the machine technique would take practice.  Besides, I enjoy hand sewing.

Here you can see a close-up of a seam and the hem.  I’ve considered going back and top-stitching, and may still do so.

I’ve bought these buttons new in 1978.  I used them on a jacket that long ago went to the used clothing store, but I just could not let these buttons go.  Because the skirt is reversible, I used clips to secure the buttons so that they can easily be removed to reverse to the other side.

On one front piece I did hand worked buttonholes, and on the other I made eyelet holes for the button shank.

I’ve already gotten a lot of wear from this skirt.  It is a great layering piece, and is very comfortable, as it fits loosely around the waist and the fabric is quite soft.



Filed under Designers, Sewing

What I Didn’t Buy – Woolrich Tweed Knickers

One old American label that I’ve neglected is Woolrich.  It was founded in 1830 by immigrant John Rich, who built a mill in Pennsylvania and proceeded to make woolen products for outdoors workers.  Over the years they became leaders in the buffalo check business, selling to hunters and other outdoorsmen.   They also made blankets and motoring robes.

At some point in their long history they began making men’s shirts out of the wool that was woven in the Woolrich mill.    This was more of a casual wear shirt rather than something a man might wear in the field.  They also began making casual wool jackets for women.

Later, probably in the 1970s, the company began to diversity its products.  Instead of making all the Woolrich clothing from Woolrich fabric, they, like many other American companies, began to add imported goods to their product line.  In 1980 they started a woman’s label, “Woolrich Woman.”

I can’t say when exactly Woolrich changed from a strictly sportswear company to more of a fashion company.  And I use the word “fashion” quite loosely.   It’s more like conservative clothing for people who like the woods, though I’ve seen that the company has recently upped its game.

As for the knickers that I did not buy, there are several reasons they stayed in the big blue bin and did not make the leap into my shopping cart.

The first problem was the condition.  You can see a hole near the knee in the top photo, and there were several other holes, some repaired.

I thought it was interesting that the legs closed with velcro instead of buttons.  Look right above the velcro and you can see where the velcro has caught the fabric.

Velcro was invented in the late 1940s, but it was not really used until the 1960s.  Even then it was not a common closure.

This is the label, which was first used in 1965.  As far as I can tell, it was used into the 1990s.  I’m basing this on listings on Etsy and Ebay, but the clothing is hard to accurately date due to the unchanging, conservative nature of it.  Due to what I’ve observed, my best guess is that the label changed to a similar, but dark blue label in the early 1990s.

A really nice feature of these knickers is that they have a double seat.  Also, the pockets are functional.

But I didn’t buy them because of the condition, and also because it was my gut feeling that these were from the 1980s.  My interest pretty much stops with the mid 1970s.

However, I did find and buy another pair of vintage Woolrich pants.  There were men’s trousers, made from a very heavy wool herringbone.  A former owner had cut them off quite short and did not hem them.  Thank goodness I am also quite short, and after a good hem the length will be just right for me.

They are a little too big in the waist, but being men’s pants they are easy to alter. The waistband is faced, and the center back seam is easy to stitch to a smaller size.  I’ll probably remove the suspender buttons.

These have the same label as the knickers, and they are so classic that I’d have a hard time accurately dating the,  I’m guessing early 1970s due to the flat front and the width of the legs.

For comparison, this is the label that was used in the 1950s and up to 1965.  Note the R (registered) symbol.  This trademark was registered in 1949.  This label is from a pair of very heavy wool hunting pants.  They are my snow pants.

Woolrich is still is business today, but most of the things with their label are imported.  They are still making wool fabric in the mill, and I wish they would follow Pendleton’s example and offer more products made from their wool.  They do have a hipster label, Woolrich Woolen Mills, where many of the products are made from their cloth in the USA, but they are not promoted as being so on the website sales pages.  Not only that, there are three different websites, two of which do not tell if the items are imported or domestic.  But I’ll forgive then, just because of these:  Cute Woolrich Wool Ballerina flats.


Filed under I Didn't Buy..., Made in the USA

Sewing Project – Vogue 8804

Almost two months after starting work, I’m happy to say that my “French Couture” jacket is finished.  Well, almost anyway.  I wore it today for the first time, and there is a bit of tweaking I want to do.   First, I’m going to put a large hook at the collar so I can fasten it.  Also, I’m going to do another dart of shaping on the front.  And the fringe needs a bit more cleaning up.

Of all the dozens of tasks associated with this jacket, by far the most time consuming was the making of the fringe.  I love the way it looks, but I’m really glad I did not know how long it was going to take to make so much of it.  And I thought I had it trimmed nicely, but you can see how shaggy it is after I wore it.  I probably need to take a wide-tooth comb to get all the yarns straight before another trimming.

I decided on two pockets, which are perfect for a cell phone and a twenty dollar bill.

I’m glad I added the collar.  I think it gives the jacket a more casual look.

That silk is so beautiful, but so slippery.  I know that if I were to ever have to work in a couture atelier, I’d be in the tailleur rather than the flou – working with wools rather than silks.

I’ve read so much about how light and comfortable this style jacket is, and I’ve got to agree.  This is a very easy to wear garment.  There is no constriction at all in the arms and across the back.  It is light-weight, yet warm, and the silk feels simply luxurious against the skin.

This jacket is one of the popular sewing projects of the moment.  I have a word – or two – of warning to anyone considering this undertaking.  First, you absolutely have to be confident about your hand sewing skills.  You may have years of experience on the machine, but unless you have a neat slip stitch, forget it.  Also, patience is definitely a virtue.  All that hand stitching takes time, so this is not immediate gratification sewing.

If you insist on continuing on, then I highly recommend Claire Shaeffer’s book and dvd, Couture Sewing: The Couture Cardigan Jacket.  You might also want to get the pattern, Vogue 8804, if for no other reason than to have Claire’s step-by-step directions.  I referred to both the pattern directions and to the book.  Or better yet, attend Claire’s Sewfari  if you are on the west coast, or Susan Khalje’s class which is in Baltimore.   I’ve heard that both are excellent.

I’ve been sewing for close to 50 years, but this project proved that I have so much still to learn.  Some of the things are so simple that I’m crying that it took so long to find out about them.  Probably the biggest revelation was the marking of the top of a pattern piece on the right – as opposed to the wrong – side.  How did I not know to do this?  Claire uses a little stitched X to show the top of the piece and the right side.  This is invaluable when the fabric looks the same on both sides.

I know that many people whine about all the basting that Claire suggests, but basting really is the sewer’s friend.  The one time I skipped the basting, I ended up having to rip and restitch.  Also, thread tracing the seam lines was a huge help in matching corners.  I’ll always thread trace corners from now on.

A big thanks to all of you for being so encouraging and interested.  It helped keep me going when I was all stitched out!



Filed under Sewing